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The Best Sugar Substitutes for People with Diabetes

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Should you use artificial sweeteners?

With a low to no calorie sugar count, artificial sweeteners may seem like a treat for people with diabetes. But recent research indicates that artificial sweeteners may actually be counterintuitive, especially if youre looking to manage or prevent diabetes.

 

In fact, the increased consumption of these sugar substitutes may correlate to the increase of obesity and diabetes cases.

 

The good news is that there are sugar alternatives you can choose from, including:

 

stevia or stevia products such as Truvia

tagatose

monk fruit extract

coconut palm sugar

date sugar

sugar alcohols, such as erythritol or xylitol

Youll still want to watch your intake for glucose management, but these options are far better than the products marketed as sugar-free.

 

What is stevia?

Stevia is a low-calorie sweetener that has antioxidant and antidiabetic properties. Its been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

 

Unlike artificial sweeteners and sugar, stevia can suppress your plasma glucose levels and significantly increase glucose tolerance. Its also not an artificial sweetener, technically speaking. Thats because its made from the leaves of the steviaplant.

 

Stevia alsohas the ability to:

 

increase insulin production

increase insulins effect on cell membranes

stabilize blood sugar levels

counter the mechanics of type 2 diabetes and its complications

You can find steviaunder brand names such as:

 

Pure Via

Sun Crystals

SweetLeaf

Truvia

 

While steviais natural, these brands are usually highly processed and may contain other ingredients. For example, Truvia goes through 40 processing steps before its ready to be sold. It also contains the sugar alcohol erythritol.

 

Future research may shed more light on the impact of consuming these processed stevia sweeteners.

 

The best way to consume stevia is to grow the plant yourself and use the whole leaves to sweeten foods.

 

What is tagatose?

Tagatose is another naturally occurring sugar that researchers are studying. Preliminary studies show that tagatose:

 

may be a potential antidiabetic and antiobesity medication

can lower your blood sugar and insulin response

interferes with the absorption of carbohydrates

A 2018 review of studies concluded tagatose is promising as a sweetener without major adverse effects observed.

 

But tagatose needs more studies for more definitive answers. Talk to your doctor before trying newer sweeteners such as tagatose.

 

What are some other sweet options?

Monk fruit extract and coconut palm sugar are other alternatives that are gaining popularity. But no processed sweetener can beat using fresh whole fruit to sweeten foods.

 

Another excellent option is date sugar, made of whole dates that are dried and ground. It doesnt provide fewer calories, but date sugar is made of the whole fruit with the fiber still intact.

 

You can also subtract fiber from total grams of carbohydrates, if you count carbs for meal planning. This will give you net carbs consumed. The more fibrous a food, the lower impact it will have on your blood sugar.

 

Why are artificial sweeteners bad for people with diabetes?

Some artificial sweeteners say sugar-freeor diabetic-friendly,but research suggests these sugars actually have the opposite of effect.

 

Your body responds to artificial sweeteners differently than it does regular sugar. Artificial sugar can interfere with your bodys learned taste. This can confuse your brain, which will send signals telling you to eat more, especially more sweet foods.

 

Artificial sweeteners can still raise your glucose levels

 

One 2016 study saw normal-weight individuals who ate more artificial sweeteners were more likely to have diabetes than people who were overweight or obese.

 

Another 2014 study found that these sugars, such as saccharin, can change your gut bacteria composition. This change can cause glucose intolerance, which is the first step towards metabolic syndrome and diabetes in adults.

 

For people who dont develop a glucose intolerance, artificial sweeteners may help with weight-loss or diabetes control. But switching to this sugar replacement still requires long-term management and controlled intake.

 

if youre thinking of replacing sugar regularly, talk to your doctor and dietitian about your concerns.

 

Artificial sweeteners may also contribute to weight gain

 

Obesity and being overweight is one of the top predictors for diabetes. While artificial sweeteners are FDA-approvedTrusted Source, it doesnt mean theyre healthy.

 

Marketing for food products can lead you to think non-caloric artificial sweeteners help with weight loss, but studies show the opposite.

 

Thats because artificial sweeteners:

 

may lead to cravings, overeating and weight gain

alter gut bacteria which is important for weight management

For people with diabetes looking to manage their weight or sugar intake, artificial sweeteners may not be a good substitute.

 

Being overweight or obese can also increase your risk factors for several other health issues such as high blood pressure, body pain, and stroke.

 

Safety rating for artificial sweeteners

 

The Center for Science in the Public Interest currently deems artificial sweeteners a product to avoid.Avoid means the product is unsafe or poorly tested and not worth any risk.

 

What about sugar alcohols?

Sugar alcohols are naturally found in plants and berries. The types most often used in the food industry are synthetically created. You can find them in food products that are labeled as sugar-freeor no sugar added.

 

Labels such as this are misleading because sugar alcohols are still carbohydrates. They can still raise your blood sugar, but not as much as regular sugar.

 

Common FDA-approved sugar alcohols are:

 

erythritol

xylitol

sorbitol

lactitol

isomalt

maltitol

Swerve is a newer consumer brand that contains erythritol. Its available in many grocery stores. The brand Ideal contains both sucralose and xylitol.

 

Different from artificial sweeteners

 

Sugar alcohols are often synthetic, similar to artificial sweeteners. But these two classifications of sugar alternatives arent the same. Sugar alcohols are different because they:

 

can be metabolized without insulin

are less sweet than artificial sweeteners and sugar

can be partially digested in the intestine

dont have the aftertaste of artificial sweeteners

Research suggests that sugar alcohols can be a sufficient replacement for sugar. But reports also say that it wont play a significant role in weight loss. You should treat sugar alcohols the same as sugar and limit your intake.

 

Sugar alcohols are also known to produce side effects such as gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort. However, erythritol is usually better tolerated, if youre concerned about these side effects.

 

Whats the takeaway?

Recent studies indicate that artificial sweeteners are no longer the healthy alternatives to sugar. In fact, they may increase a persons risk for diabetes, glucose intolerance, and weight gain.

 

If youre looking for a healthier alternative, try stevia. Based on research to date, this alternative sweetener is one of your better options. Its known for its antidiabetic properties and ability to stabilize blood sugar levels.

 

You can get stevia in raw form, grow the plant yourself, or buy it under brand names such as Sweet Leaf and Truvia.

 

However, you should still limit your total added sugar intake rather than switching to sugar substitutes.

 

The more you consume any kind of added sweeteners, the more your palate is exposed to sweet tastes. Palate research shows that the food you prefer and crave is the food that you eat most often.

 

Youll see the most benefit for managing your sugar cravings and diabetes when you reduce all forms of added sugar.

 

Medically reviewed by Natalie Olsen, RD, LD, ACSM EP-C Written by the Healthline Editorial Team Updated on April 13, 2020


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